By David Brand
They say the wheels of justice turn slowly, but try telling that to staff in the New York Legal Assistance Group’s Mobile Legal Help Center who drive to a different neighborhood every day to provide vital legal services to low-income New Yorkers.
NYLAG has pioneered the use of the innovative van to meet New Yorkers-in-need in their own neighborhoods. Next month, the van will motor through Woodside, Flushing and Rockaway Beach.
The 40-foot van features two office spaces and a waiting area where NYLAG staff, pro bono attorneys from law firms and volunteers from local law schools serve clients.
“The van allows us go to neighborhoods that are less accessible,” said Fulvia Vargas, a staff attorney for Mobile Legal Help Center. “Clients may not know they have a legal issue and they can get help.”
Vargas said NYLAG has deep connections with law firms and law schools in Queens and elsewhere in the city and posts pro bono opportunities on their website. Clients tend to focus on issues related to family, housing and immigration law, she said.
“But it varies by neighborhood,” Vargas said. “We’re seeing people with [Temporary Protected Status] and [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipients in need of immigration assistance.”
NYLAG first introduced the Mobile Legal Help Center in 2011.
“The Mobile Legal Help Center is an example of NYLAG doing what it does best: innovating to address unmet needs. In this case that means if people who need legal assistance can’t get to us, we will bring our legal staff to them,” said NYLAG president Beth Goldman at 2016 five-year anniversary celebration. “In the last five years the Mobile Legal Help Center has enabled us to serve the needs of thousands of people who would otherwise have remained isolated and unable to access the justice system.”
On Sept. 7, the van will park outside State Sen. Joseph Addabbo’s office in Rockaway Beach and provide assist to residents from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Being a former practicing attorney, I understand the hurdles that come along with trying to find good legal assistance. By partnering with the New York Legal Assistance Group, I hope to alleviate some of these issues for my constituents, all at no cost to them,” Addabbo said. “The experienced legal experts at NYLAG will be able to give advice and counsel on a wide variety of issues, right on site. I would like to thank NYLAG for once again partnering with my office to bring legal assistance to my constituents.”
Vargas said that elected officials and community-based organization frequently contact NYLAG to request the van. Sometime, they ask for attorneys who specialize in specific issues, like Hurricane Sandy relief.
Mobile Legal Help Center staff and volunteers use the opportunity to refer clients to attorneys at the main NYLAG office and develop long-term relationships with people in need of legal support.
“The van is a way to get clients in and to provide brief consultations and advice on site,” Vargas said. “If a client comes to the van, it may open a large case.”